Chiang Mai or Northern Thai Curry Noodles, Khao Soi – An Overture Number II of the Thai Curry Series

Northern Thai Curry Noodles - Khao Soi by The High Heel Gourmet 17

I want to give you another recipe right before holidays, during which I will be diving the Great Barrier Reef! This is another curry dish, the northern Thai-style wheat noodles with curry broth in coconut milk called Khao Soi. (Khao or Kao=rice, Soi or Soy=cut thinly, sometimes referred to julienne)

Naturally, I can’t resist my own urge to give you the history of the dish, so skip the next few paragraphs if you are not interested. Let’s start from the egg noodles that originated the name “Khao Soi”. This is a specific noodle that contains wheat flour, eggs, salt and water but no alkaline agent, so the result is a softer noodle. The dough is pressed into sheets and then hand-cut into thin strips.

I have been told from an old lady, the owner of a famous Khao Soi joint in Chiang Mai, Thailand, that this way of cutting noodles from sheets into strips, an action called “soi” in Thai, is where the name “Khao Soi” came from. Well, the noodles were made from wheat, not rice (khao means rice, remember—not wheat) so I’m not 100% sold on that piece of history, but I tried to research more on the origins but that yielded no result, so I’m going to stick with that explanation until I find another new fact.

Originally the dish was brought to the northern part of Thailand by the Hui Chinese (known also as “Muslim Chinese” or “Islamic Chinese”) from the Yunnan Province of China who were seeking asylum from the massacres visited on them by the Qing Dynasty after they lost in the “Panthay Rebellion”, in the period around 1856-1873. In 1877, King Rama V of Thailand officially granted them permission to stay in Chiang Mai and the Lam Pang province of Thailand.

They brought with them the Chinese halal food. As some of you who are interested in food culture or history of international food might already know the Islamic Chinese cuisine. They eat a lot of wheat noodles. They are true noodle masters. The hand-pulled noodles named Lamian also originated from the Hui. The dish that evolved to become Khao Soi was also one of their soup noodles, only without the coconut milk. The coconut milk was added as an ingredient for Khao Soi only after  WWII, including the adjusted taste to suit the Thais.

This is one recipe that can be made more simple by using “pre-made” curry paste. If you don’t want to spend time making curry paste from scratch and want to start making a pot of curry right away, you can skip the next part and go right to the “Simple Recipe” down below. It would not be as awesome as making your own curry paste, but you can save about half an hour to forty-five minutes, plus all the time you’ll save not looking for ingredients for the curry paste.

However, before you skip the curry paste recipe, let’s have an understanding. I found that some internet “know-it-all” sites would tell you to use “Thai red curry paste” and add curry powder or turmeric powder (or both) to make this dish. Please, please, pretty please, DON’T DO THAT!

Most Thai curry paste contains garlic, lemongrass, galangal and shrimp paste, which are NOT the ingredients in Khao Soi curry paste. The foreign ingredients that have strong flavor like that would ruin this pot of curry for dead sure. The Thai made each of their curries differently, or else they won’t bother call them with different names. You can’t just use red curry paste as a base anytime you want to make a pot of Thai curry.

OK, I hope you understand. Now you can go to the “Simple Recipe” section by clicking on this link.

This recipe is adjusted by me, so as you can guess it will have a lesser degree of heat from chili. If you want it hot hot, add more chili or change the type of chili to the stronger potent one.

Northern Thai Curry Noodles - Khao Soi by The High Heel Gourmet 12

Ingredients for the curry paste (serves 2 people)

Red California dry chili  2 full pods (about 3-4 inches long);  discard the seeds

Shallots, diced or sliced  3 tablespoons

Fresh Ginger, diced  3 tablespoons

Fresh Turmeric, diced  2 tablespoons (you can substitute with tumeric powder)

Northern Thai Curry Noodles - Khao Soi by The High Heel Gourmet 11

Coriander seeds  1 tablespoon

Black Cardamom  2 pods (can be substituted with 4 pods of green cardamom, which is much easier to find but the flavor will be slightly sweeter than the savory, smoky flavor of black cardamom.)

Top dark pods are Black Cardamom. The smaller green pods are the Green Cardamom. The measuring spoons are to give you the sense of the size of the pods.

Top dark pods are Black Cardamom. The smaller green pods are the Green Cardamom. The measuring spoons are to give you the sense of the size of the pods.

Curry powder  1 tablespoon

Salt  1 teaspoon

Coconut cream  1/2  cup

Northern Thai Curry Noodles - Khao Soi by The High Heel Gourmet 5

Note: I use California chili because I like the red color and the sweetness of it. Obviously I’m not looking to make this curry hot but if you do, you have these options.

1) Keep the seeds; the curry will be slightly hotter, but California chili isn’t that hot so it would be a nice balance.

2) Use some other different kind of chili. The original recipe uses 4 pods of Thai chili (that will be HOT!)

Method for making the curry paste

1) Take the seeds out of the Black Cardamom pods

Northern Thai Curry Noodles - Khao Soi by The High Heel Gourmet 3

and roast them in a dry pan with the coriander seeds.

Northern Thai Curry Noodles - Khao Soi by The High Heel Gourmet 6

2) Put the shallots, ginger and turmeric in the pan

Northern Thai Curry Noodles - Khao Soi by The High Heel Gourmet 3 (1)

and roast them until they release their aroma.

Northern Thai Curry Noodles - Khao Soi by The High Heel Gourmet 4 (1)

3) Put all of the roasted ingredients in a blender,

Northern Thai Curry Noodles - Khao Soi by The High Heel Gourmet 13

add the chili coriander seeds cardamom seeds with half a cup of coconut milk

Northern Thai Curry Noodles - Khao Soi by The High Heel Gourmet 14

and puree them. If needed, gradually add more coconut cream because the blender might eventually stop as the puree thicken.

Northern Thai Curry Noodles - Khao Soi by The High Heel Gourmet 4

4) Blend until it’s all a smooth, cream-like texture, then add the salt and curry powder.

Northern Thai Curry Noodles - Khao Soi by The High Heel Gourmet 2

This is how smooth of the paste or puree you need for the Kao Soi curry.

Note: Traditionally, after roasted all the ingredients you would grind them in a mortar. If you choose to do it that way you won’t add coconut cream at that point, but should add the curry powder and salt in the mortar and grind them finely until they turn in to a paste. If you make curry paste this way, read the method of cooking number 1.3 down below to cook your curry. By the way, this traditional method, even though it takes more time, yield the best result.

Simple recipe

Buy one package of Lobo Khao Soi seasoning mix. You can buy them from Amazon or at Temple of Thai.

Ingredient for the curry soup (for 2)

Curry paste that we made, or Lobo Kao Soi seasoning

Chicken drumsticks  2 pieces (if you want to use only dark meat then use 4-6 pieces)

Chicken breast, diced  8 oz.  (If you want to use only white meat then use 1 lb.)

Chinese egg noodles, flat and slightly wide, 1 package, or you can use make your own noodles: see the recipe in the past blog “Oodles of Noodles” (for Khao Soi, I would use the recipe for the egg pasta. Do not add the baking soda. You would use about one cup of flour.)

Pick the flat thin ribbon like egg noodles for Kao Soi.

Pick the flat thin ribbon like egg noodles for Kao Soi.

Coconut milk  2 cups

Water  3 cups

Soy sauce  2 tablespoons

Crystal sugar 1 teaspoon

Note: You can substitute the chicken with beef.

Garnishes

Pickled mustard cut into thin strips  1 cup (Traditionally they would use only the stem part. You can skip the leaves part if you want but I use them all)

Shallots  diced or, if you prefer, sliced  1/4 cup

Cilantro cut about 1/4” long  1/4 cup

Scallion cut about 1/4” long   2 tablespoons

Wedge of lime

Fish sauce

Sugar

Chili flake stir-fried in oil (optional)

Bean sprouts, or cabbage cut into thin strip (optional)  2 cups

Method for cooking the curry soup

1) Cook the curry paste with oil or coconut milk

1.1 with Lobo Kao Soi Seasoning mix, just heat up the 1/2 cup of coconut milk or oil with the contents in the envelope. Cook until it boils, then let it bubble for at least one minute, adding the coconut milk if you see it dry up.

1.2 with fresh-made curry paste pureed in blender, pour the whole contents from the blender into the pot

Northern Thai Curry Noodles - Khao Soi by The High Heel Gourmet 7 (1)

and cook over medium high heat until it bubbles. Let it boil for 2 minutes, adding  the coconut milk as needed  to prevent it from drying up or burning.

1.3 with fresh-made mortar-ground curry paste, heat up 1/2 cup of coconut milk over medium high heat until it bubbles,

Northern Thai Curry Noodles - Khao Soi by The High Heel Gourmet 6 (1)

then add the curry paste, stirring until the content bubbles again.

Northern Thai Curry Noodles - Khao Soi by The High Heel Gourmet 8 (1)

Let it boil for 2 minutes, adding  coconut milk as needed  to prevent it from drying up or burning.

Northern Thai Curry Noodles - Khao Soi by The High Heel Gourmet 9 (1)

Cook the content at least 2 minutes or until the paste release the aroma.

2) Add the chicken and the rest of the coconut milk, along with one cup of water.

3) Bring it boil and then let it simmer until drumsticks are tender, about 30 minutes to an hour, and keep adding water. Don’t let it get dry.

4) While you’re waiting for the curry to be ready, fry about half a cup of noodles in hot oil over high heat.

Separate the noodles before putting them in the oil so they won't clump together.

Separate the noodles before putting them in the oil so they won’t clump together.

Fry them in small batch at a time in a very hot oil set over high heat.

Fry them in small batch at a time in a very hot oil set over high heat.

This will yield about one cup of fried noodles. Set them aside for garnish.

Northern Thai Curry Noodles - Khao Soi by The High Heel Gourmet 7

5) Season with soy sauce. I would season the curry to my taste here with salt or fish sauce and sugar, but you can also season it later after you put fried noodles and every other seasoning in it.

6) Once the curry is ready, set another pot of water to boil, then cook the noodles and bean sprouts or cabbage( if you decide to use them).

7) Assemble in a bowl by putting the chicken drumstick and the white meat in the bowl first, then add the curry soup and all the garnishes.

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This is the Khao Soi Neau, the curry noodles with beef instead of chicken.

Northern Thai Curry Noodles - Khao Soi by The High Heel Gourmet (1)

I shouldn’t have to tell you what to do next, right?

21 thoughts on “Chiang Mai or Northern Thai Curry Noodles, Khao Soi – An Overture Number II of the Thai Curry Series

  1. This recipe looks delish! Khao Soi was one of the best things my husband and I ate when we went to Chiang Mai last year! Are the egg noodles dry or fresh?

    Reply

      • We live in Chiang Mai and both my wife and I love cooking (she is Thai and has a degree in Food Technology) Some time ago my nephew and his wife visited us from North QLD and they loved the Khao Soi @ a local restaurant. They loved it and yesterday asked for my wife’s recipe. THAT was when she confessed to using “LOBO” pre-mix with a few bits that she adds to it. I’m going to try YOUR recipe from scratch and we’ll see how it goes.
        Cheers,
        Murray Dickson, Chiang Mai.

      • You know despise the MSG in Lobo, I think this brand really got the spice part down. Their larb powder is quite good. I wish the made the “organic” or “no MSG” version. I will definitely buy it.

        Ok, let me know what do you think of this recipe. You are in the region and can compare to the original. I haven’t been back to Chiang Mai over ten years. And you can be honest even with negative criticism too.

      • Yep, tried it and it was brilliant. You’re right about the MSG in Lobo, wish they would ditch the MSG.

        Your version was so good, I’m going to pass it on to some friends in KK, Malaysia where they have a restaurant. They are both Sri Lankan and we were friends in Perth Western Australia. The husband was sales manager at the Hilton Perth Hotel, they’ve now retired and are running an Australian Restaurant in KK. I’ll let you know what they think of this one. If you get a chance to re-visit Chiang Mai, we must catch up….some more great restaurants have come on the scene since you were last here.
        Cheers,
        Murray.

      • I am glad you like it.

        KK in Borneo isn’t it. I’ve been there but just transit to Borneo. I wish I know the town more.

        Definitely I will let you know if I am going to visit Chiang-Mai. I’m visiting Bangkok in September for a cousin’s wedding but won’t have enough time to go to Chiang Mai. I will be back again may be Dec. and I need to take my hubby there. He’ve never seen it and I can visit my aunt and uncle too.

  2. ขอบคุณมากครับใจดีมาก Great recommendations and that should keep me going on my next trip back up north. I love the northern tastes, but must admit to having a craving for the southern taste as well. I just love dishes like Gang Masaman (แกงมัสหมัน)and Gang Gari (แกงกะหรี). It’s why I always make sure i stay near a park or a gym so that daily running can see off any over indulgence. Thanks for the tips….Excellent.

  3. A tremendous post packed full of beautiful photos and great information. I have been to Chiang Mai on countless occasions, but only just recently tried Khao Soi noodles.I know shame on me. The result I loved them. Actually I tell a slight lie as I had them in Lamphun and not Chiang Mai. Very tasty and look forward to having this specialist dish of the north again in the future. Great post, great blog.

    • You had bounced around the country, just saw them from your blog post. I’m envy. Yes, Lamphun might have slightly different recipe. I don’t remember how different but will investigate it next time I’m going there. You can make this at home very easily. It’s the second easiest Thai curry you can make 🙂

      If you’re back to Bangkok try Sukhumwit soi 38 food. Take BTS Thonglor station but exit on the opposite of Sukhumwit from Soi Thonglor. The best sticky rice and mango and one good PadThai vendor there and also a place for handmade noodle and bbq pork (moodang) too. Enjoy 🙂

      • Thank you for that. I am in Bangkok early March 2013 and will take your advice. It’s always so interesting the different tastes of the different regional dishes in Thailand. When I am in Chiang Mai though I love to visit the restaurant ”Aroon Rai” in the Thapae Gate area. The place has been there for years, but the food is always superb. Besides Khao Soi noodles they do a superb Gang Hanglay.

      • That’s also a good one 🙂 You make me miss Gang Hangley there also what I miss the most is Gang ho. Its the combination of many things including Gang Hangley in it. There are two places that I like to recommend one is W by Wanlamun, 1, Chang Moi Rd. Soi 2 | A. Muang, 05-323 2328. This one might be a little but hard to find. Try Khao pad gag moo (ข้าวผัดกากหมู) and all others especially the pastries. Another one is called Kab Khao Saun Dok (กับข้าวสวนดอก) I can only give you the phone number. You can handed this to the Thai taxi driver or ask someone to call and get direction in Thai 053 122 805, 081 884 7925. All I can say is it’s NOT near Saun Dok area…lol…and you might want to try Silver noodle stir fired with salted egg and if your cholesterol is normal then try the quail egg salad (ยำไข่จาระเม็ดเทียม). I think the bake chicken there was so good too…Enjoy Thailand!

    • Thanks for reblogging! I just visited your blog and really like it. It made me missed the Australian. I just came back from a trip to Australia, Dec – Jan andd we love the people and the food there very much. I’m following your blog now 🙂

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